Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Course

It's a beautiful morning, and 'Out of Doors' on Radio Scotland is broadcasting a programme about sailing, which is making me want to take a walk along the coast. However, this is an MBA weekend, so it's another day in a lecture theatre to cover something called 'Strategic Planning'. Hum.

It has its compensations, though. Yesterday at lunch, our table had a political researcher from Edinburgh (me), a banker from Nassau, a manager from Madras and an accountant from Abuja (and before anyone asks, the last 2 alliterations aren't fabricated). All loved Scotland, even if they weren't too fond of the weather (today might change their tune, though). And at least two are hoping to stay as part of the 'Fresh Talent' initiative.

I hope they do - these are exactly the kind of folk we want to be attracting to study, live and work here. They could have studied anywhere in the world - the fact that they and so many more like them come to Scotland and want to stay, should maybe make a few people reappraise their opinion of Scotland and where she is headed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


So, farewell then. I am not now (nor have I ever been...) a fan of Tony Blair, although I'd like to think that despite my own leanings, I can still give him a fair crack of the whip.

One thing I certainly recognise is his skill as a communicator. He is without doubt a class act and I've felt that ever since I saw him on TV deliver his first speech to the Labour conference as party leader in 1994. One of the things I remember from that speech, besides the spellbinding delivery, was the promise of 'a laptop computer for every school pupil'.

13 years on, it still hasn't happened, which means that a child starting Primary 1 when he made that speech will now be thinking about University (and the debts which follow), but won't have typed a single essay on it on their way there. While trivial in itself, it sounded like a cheap gimmick at the time it was promised. Subsequent failure to deliver or even mention it again led me early on to take a sceptical view of Blair and what I see as his tendency to say whatever sounds good when it suits him to do so.

I would say that if you look to his record up until about 2003, it is one of which he can be quite proud. Minimum wage, Bank of England independence, the most radical constitutional reforms since 1832... had he gone then, six years into his Premiership, I reckon history would have been exceptionally kind to him. But he didn't, and now he will now be remembered primarily for the poor prosecution of the campaigns in Afghanistan and, more seriously, Iraq.

I find it disappointing that he continues to deny that our actions in Iraq have made the world more dangerous, when we now know that this opinion is not shared even by analysts in the CIA and MOD. He resorts instead to saying "This terrorism isn't our fault. We didn't cause it". While that is true, it's also a straw man.

The accusation from his critics is that his actions in Iraq have made things worse, not that it was this which triggered the global terrorist threat. To solve a problem you have to recognise first that it exists. It seems to me that whatever views we might have about the sagacity of the Iraq invasion, Blair serves no-one but himself by attempting to deny the part he has played in taking Iraq to its current perilous position.

And that for me sums up Blair. Eloquent and charming he may be, but all too often he resorted to saying whatever was convenient, or made little verbal malversations, which when exposed we were expected to overlook on the grounds that he was a 'pretty straight sort of guy' who always had our best interests at heart.

He seemed able to convince himself that something was true, even when it was not, then persuade others with utmost sincerity that this was in fact the case. The warning signs were there early in his leadership, with a claim he made on the Des O'Connor show on ITV (which I remember watching) that he ran away from school and stowed away on a flight to the Bahamas at Newcastle Airport. This despite the fact that no airline has ever run any such service from there!

He also had an alarming tendency to try and polarise people into making false 'either or' choices. Or making a pretence at acknowledging legitimate difference, before asserting that his way was correct, simply because he believed it was the 'right thing to do'. I have never been comfortable with his intolerance for his critics, or of his need to always be seen as the strong man. The obsessions with novelty, his apparent need always to have an enemy to battle against and his inability (even by politicians' standards) to admit either error or fallibility, made me deeply uncomfortable. For that reason, I can't say I'll be very sorry to see him depart.

It could have been very different. I remember the Saturday after Labour won in 1997, my heart lifting when John Prescott appeared in the box at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final with the fans singing 'Abide With Me' - something which was a big event for the North of England, and here it was getting the prominence it deserved in national life. I also remember my heart sinking again fairly quickly when the new health secretary (Tessa Jowell?) held a photo opportunity on the following Monday to show us all how to wash our hands... sadly, that seemed to set the tone for a 'we know best' style of government which in retrospect, Blair was the perfect man to front.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lincolnshire Poacher Turned Gamekeeper

Try and contain your excitement... the MP for Grantham and Stamford, Quentin Davies, has defected to the Labour Party from the Conservatives.

In a letter to David Cameron, Davies apparently wrote that the Conservative Party seemed "to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything".

"It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda."

Surely even Davies must recognise the irony in citing these as being reasons for joining Labour? After all, hasn’t the incoming Prime Minister done every bit as much to put Labour in its current sorry state as the man headed for the exit?

Other Blogs:

Iain Dale

Davie Hutchison

Nick Robinson

Reactionary Snob

Sunday, June 24, 2007

There But For The Grace Of God

You've got to feel for the poor SNP press officer who overlooked a most unfortunate typo in one of yesterday's press releases. Readers of a certain Sunday paper may have stumbled across the story already, but if not, then I'm not going to help you find it!

The embarrassing typo is an occupational hazard for political hacks like me. I once (almost) put out a press release slating a lack of co-ordination between government departments by stating that 'quite clearly, the right hand doesn't know what the felt hand is doing...'

Yep, that would have been red face time right enough had I hit the 'send' button. There but for the grace of God go all of us :-)

Friday, June 22, 2007

George Foulkes Off

The irony is delicious. Lord George Foulkes, or 'Squealer' as I prefer to know him, has decided that the hard graft of sitting on the Holyrood Subordinate Legislation committee is not for him. Consequently, he's quit the post so that he can spend Tuesdays sitting on Westminster's intelligence and security committee instead.

Leaping once more from trotter to trotter, George is quoted in today's Edinburgh Evening News, with refreshing candour it has to be said, that his appointment to the committee was 'a mistake'. Some might say of course that his getting into Holyrood at all was something of a mistake in the first place, with only a calamitous Labour performance in the Lothians allowing him to scrape in on the list. But that would be churlish and wholly beneath the high-minded purpose of this blog :-)

Anyway, I'll leave the final word to my good friend Dr Ian McKee, SNP MSP of this parish, who points out with commendable restraint: "George spent the election objecting to Alex Salmond having two jobs. So this sounds like perfect justice."

A Timely Corrective

Cancer drugs, educational apartheid, free university tuition... if you believed everything you read in the English papers, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was all milk and honey north of the Tweed. And worse, that it's all happening thanks to the benevolence of the English taxpayer. Jings, crivvens, help ma boab etc ad nauseum.

Of course, we seldom hear the flip side to this - of how public spending in the English regions varies massively; of the imbalances in 'unidentified expenditure' which benefit London and the South of England the most; the NHS treatments available in England but not in Scotland, such as enzyme therapies, a strategy for COPD or liposuction for overweight children. No, it's much more entertaining (and easier) for journos and politicians to rabble rouse about feather-bedded Scots stealing bread from the mouths of our benevolent cousins elsewhere.

Of course, there's reasons for public spending being higher in Scotland - that small detail of having 1/12 of the population spread over 1/3 of the landmass for starters. However, if you come from a high public spend region like London or the North-East, it's easy to ignore these inconvenient facts, hiding instead behind the lower overall English spending figures per head to try and justify your own special pleading.

So, hats off then to Peter MacMahon, who in today's Scotsman, bursts systematically many of these silly little arguments. My own view is that England, or at least some parts of England, get a rough deal from the current constitutional and funding arrangements. However, since devolution isn't going to go away, surely even the most blinkered Scotophobe can see that incoherent bitching about perceived Scottish advantage isn't going to resolve the anomalies they claim to care so much about?

Independence would solve all of this at a stroke. However, as a service to my CEP-inclined friends out there who can't stand the idea of Scottish independence, here's a little suggestion: why not simply break the current link which exists between English spending and the Scottish block grant through the Barnett Formula? That way, Scotland gets to keep her taxes to spend as she sees fit, submits a portion to Westminster for shared services, and with the link between English policy and Scottish funding thus broken, you could have genuine 'English only' issues at Westminster, from which you could then ban all Scottish MPs from voting, Gordon Brown included.

As I said, it's always more fun to complain than to come up with practical solutions, but the current debate in England does no-one any favours. When independence comes, I'd prefer that it happens on the basis of continued mutual respect. Currently, England is being badly served by politicians either stuffed full of John Bull, or who prefer to pretend that these issues just don't exist. Where's England's Alex Salmond right now?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Apologies to any regular readers for the lack of postings this week. I was at a wedding on Saturday, recovering on Sunday, driving to London on Monday, and flathunting both yesterday and today.
Reassuringly, my budget means I won't be in a complete hovel, though I'll admit my heart did sink a bit when the estate agent showed me a bedsit in St John's Wood for which they wanted the best part of a grand a month. That'll be right, as they say...

Luckily, there seems to be better value places around, especially in Ealing, where I am just now. I've one more place to check out tonight, which is apparently less than 10 minutes walk from Westminster, but with any luck, I should be sorted with somewhere to stay by close of play tomorrow. Then the fun can begin getting my place in Edinburgh ready to rent out.

First impressions? Mainly how relaxed everyone seems to be. I've thought for a while that Edinburgh was becoming quite an angry and aggressive little city. Londoners seem to make a better job of taking it all in their stride, probably because if you reacted to every door left to slam in your face or car cutting you up, you'd be dead from a heart attack in short order.

Anyway, time to go. I've got a hotel to find and a security pass to update. Thankfully I won't be negotiating the underground with this amount of luggage every day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

School's Out

I was showing a group of Primary sixes round Holyrood today. I’ve never really considered myself to be all that old, but I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder if the musical ‘Good-mor-ning-mis-ter-Thom-son’ they greeted me with was anything to go by :-)

Not having any kids of my own, I’m never very sure how to pitch things to children. You don’t want to bore them, but equally, make it too simple and they’ll have you for breakfast. Luckily, though, this lot had been studying the Scottish Parliament, and were about to hold their own mock elections. I say luckily, but once they had been shown round and we were waiting for First Minister’s Questions to finish so that Shona could join us, they had some pretty penetrating questions to ask me:

Who’s the best MSP? – “Er... It's hard to say. Some make good speeches, some are good in the committees, others are good at constituency work. Everybody brings something to the place in their own way”.

Is Alex Salmond the best MSP? – “He’s very good, but as the First Minister he does a different job to all the other MSPs, so it’s quite hard to compare, really”.

Do MSPs have any fun? – “Well, it’s hard work, but they do sometimes get a good laugh in the chamber if someone says something daft or funny".

Do MSPs get jealous of each other? – “Um.. Good question. They’re just ordinary people, so I suppose they must!”

How much does Alex Salmond get paid? – “Oh, about £120,000. More than me, anyway. Probably more than your teacher as well!”

How much do you get paid? – “Erm… I’m not sure. More than I did for my first paper round, anyway…”

So what do you do? – “I’m a researcher for Shona Robison, the lady who’s your MSP. I write speeches and meet people for her and things like that”

(I kid you not) Does that mean you do all the work, and she gets all the credit? – [Nervous laugh] “Er, no. Did you know that Shona had to be up before 5 this morning to get to work?”

Fortunately, when Shona arrived, they still had plenty questions left. And did the same boy who asked whether I did all the work not follow up straight away by asking whether or not I was a good assistant? Shona, ever the pro, answered that all of her assistants did different jobs, and that all of them, myself included, did them very well. I’ll buy her a glass of wine for that reply before I head off to London.

I predict a bright future ahead in politics or journalism for that boy if he wants one. However, by far the best question of the day came earlier on from from a wee girl, who on seeing Brian Taylor getting ready for the cameras, asked innocently if the lady applying his make-up was his personal beauty therapist. I’ll never be able to watch Brian again in quite the same light…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who's Hired?

Tonight sees the final of ‘The Apprentice’ on BBC1. Normally, I can’t stick reality TV, yet in both this series and last, The Apprentice is one programme I haven’t been able to get enough of.

Thankfully, the gruesome Katie Hopkins is now out of contention. About the only thing which caused me to soften my opinion of her was Michelle Mone’s botched attempt to stick in her claws on last week’s ‘You’re Fired!’ follow up. Even then, it was still like watching Jerry Springer. Undignified, demeaning and vomit-inducing - yet still strangely compulsive at the same time.

So, the final comes down to Simon Ambrose, 27, and Kristina Grimes, 36. Simon’s a nice guy, and has been consistently entertaining. But for my money, Kristina is the one who deserves it most. She’s played it straight with all the other contestants right down the line; asks all the right questions; doesn’t mess around and seems always to just get on with the task in hand. That probably disqualifies her from an appearance on Celebrity Big Brother any time soon, but it should make her a pretty formidable prospect if she wins the job tonight.

UPDATE: Well, congrats to Simon, and commiserations to Kristina. In Simon, Alan Sugar has got someone he can mould. As Simon has just said himself, "I'm the Apprentice, but Kristina's the accomplished". When even your opponents can say that about you, you probably won't be out of work for too long!

The others:

Ghazal Asif: Had a surface confidence verging at times on brashness, but never seemed to deliver. All gong and no dinner, as one contestant was described memorably last year.

Tre Azam: Undoubted star of the show. Had an uncanny knack of being able to sum up any situation with just a handful of swear-words. Bit of a fly-by-night and therefore a risk, but always seemed to know exactly what he was doing.

Gerri Blackwood: The amount of business jargon and psychobabble she spouted seemed inversely proportionate to the common sense she displayed. Could easily have gone in the first week for her inept attempts to sell coffee at twice the price of local cafes.

Paul Callaghan: Will be remembered for his boy scout attempts to cook sausages on an upturned tin can, and for trying to sell blocks of processed English cheddar at a French farmers market. Deserved to go when he did.

Ifti Chaudhri: Left in week 2 as he missed his family. Didn’t really get a chance to show what he could do. Shame, really.

Katie Hopkins: Urgh. See above.

Adam Hosker: Didn’t really come across as being finalist material, but still performed better than most. Repeatedly singled out by less competent candidates for being ‘negative’, in an attempt to get him sent down the road in their place.

Andy Jackson: Fired in episode 1. The guys tried to stitch him up something rotten, but still lost control of the coffee-selling task when put in charge of the girls’ team. Let down by the hopeless Gerri and by not being sufficiently lactose intolerant when purchasing. Nice guy, but would probably have gone out fairly early on in any case.

Jadine Johnson: Had me shouting at the telly early on. By far the most irritating candidate in weeks 1 & 3, but seemed to calm down as things progressed. Another candidate who understandably ended up missing her family. Sorry to see her go in the end.

Dr Sophie Kain: Scuppered Andy by buying too much milk for the coffee selling task. Committed suicide in week 4 by stating in the boardroom that she had difficulty selling anything that she didn’t feel was good value. Quite hot, in a blue-stockingy sort of way, but you get the feeling that this wasn’t the job for her.

Lohit Kalburgi: Who? I can’t remember him doing anything very much, so I’ve nothing particularly good or bad to say about him. Low visibility came back to haunt him in the end.

Rory Laing: Insisted in one task that everyone else on the team remove their jackets while he retained his, to show that he was the one ‘in charge’. Twat of the first order – deservedly booted out in week 2.

Naomi Lay: Can’t really think of anything much to say about her. Mostly competent, sharp-tongued on occasions, but seemed to be liked by other contestants. Might have been a finalist with better luck, and by being given a better task than selling stuff on a TV shopping channel. What was that all about?

Natalie Wood: Got caught in a lie about Adam and was one of the ones who tried unsuccessfully to do him down for being ‘negative’. A contestant to whom I warmed greatly when she was interviewed after her sacking. Deserves to do well now she’s returned to real life.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Worst Small Country in the World?

Jack will be disappointed. It seems that despite all the marketing boasts which greet passengers at our airports, Scotland might not be the best (small) country in the world after all.

The Federation of Small Business has produced a report comparing Scotland to 10 other countries with fewer than nine million people, including Norway, Iceland and the Republic of Ireland. The measures compared included data on economic performance, employment rates, health and education. Scotland's poor life expectancy was a major factor in coming bottom.

In socio-economic terms, Scotland is like the curate's egg. The wealth enjoyed by Edinburgh, West Lothian, Perthshire and Aberdeen is not matched in much of west central Scotland. There's no doubt that perceived poor life opportunities and a general lack of care for personal wellbeing is a huge factor in our less than optimal economic performance. Nicolas Crafts of the London School of Economics sketches it starkly when he estimates that if Scotland simply matched English life expectancy, our GDP would increase by over 20%.

However, Scottish GDP is already fairly high, reaching £111bn once oil is factored in (this takes public spending as a share of GDP down to c. 41%, in contrast to the oft-cited figure of 50%). These figures would, on the 2003 OECD figures, make an independent Scotland the 8th richest country in the world per capita, sandwiched in between the USA and Sweden. Admittedly, a relatively static population massages the GDP per head figure somewhat, but you get the idea. Problems we may have, but a basket case we certainly are not.

There's no need for us to plunge into a collective national gloom over these indicators. Sure, they make for pretty grim reading, but the opportunity for us to do better is there. A number of measures can be taken to improve growth and help rebalance our population profile, such as cutting business rates and reducing the burden of graduate debt. However, one of the single most significant measures we could take is to improve the link between taxation and public spending, by introducing fiscal independence.

We're not a poor country, nor are we subsidised by anyone else. No-one holds us back, and no-one will prevent us in the longer term from taking the actions that the other independent nations seem to be able to use to deliver better life outcomes for their peoples. Taking greater responsibility for our own affairs, on both personal and governmental levels, is surely the best way to deal with our unique set of national strengths and weaknesses.

Small Nation - Worst Wee Country
Devil's Kitchen - The Best Wee Country In The World?
Pat Kane - Scotland Is Unwell


Here's another good reason why nuclear power is not the saviour some seem to think it is.

OK, Hunterson 'B' is an older plant, and it's not a total outage this time. Nonetheless, if anything goes wrong, even with just one of the reactors, that's still 4000 GWh - nearly 9% - lost from our total output.

No-one's really going to notice if a single wind farm, hydro scheme or conventional station goes down for any reason. In comparison, even leaving aside all the other 'cons' offered by nuclear, opting for such a generating future would still be putting a lot of eggs in comparatively few baskets.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Noblest Prospect?

Well, the SNP won the election and formed the government, and now the Scottish political focus will, in part, drift southwards for the general election. Partly in consequence, although this has been in the planning for a wee while, I now have a new job with the SNP. In London. I'm delighted, although I should also make sure that I'm the first to acknowledge the irony in the situation :-)

For a variety of reasons, mostly personal, I've felt for a while that I fancied a change of scene from Edinburgh. Ever since I started working for Stewart Hosie, I've been the only SNP Westminster researcher not actually based in Westminster, which had both advantages and disadvantages.

I've been brooding over a move to work elsewhere for a while now, either for a job related to politics or a return to finance. However, my progress with my MBA has been, ahem, sporadic of late. And the one thing I've found since leaving the financial sector is that by working for first the SNP and then their parliamentarians, I've enjoyed a hitherto rare engagement with what I actually do each day. Being able to get out of bed each morning looking forward to work, is something which it's absolutely impossible to put any kind of price on. So to get the change of scene but retain the work I enjoy so much is from my point of view, very fortunate indeed.

Next week will be business as usual, but after that, I'm going to have to throw myself into the task of letting out my flat and finding somewhere to stay in London. So, if anyone fancies moving into a spacious flat just yards from Portobello Beach, or alternatively knows of somewhere in London where I can move with both a cat and a car, please feel free to get in touch.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Memorandum and a Misunderstanding?

So. The UK government has reached a 'memorandum of understanding' with their Libyan couterparts, which will see both sides "commence negotiations" over prisoner transfers, extradition and mutual assistance in criminal law.

Let's be clear - this is unexceptional in itself. However, given the sensitivity of these issues as they pertain to the justice system in Scotland, where a Libyan national is currently serving a life sentance for the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 in December 1988, it is a subject which you might think would have been raised in advance with Scottish Ministers.

Alas, no such consultation ever took place, either with the outgoing or the incoming Scottish government. The outline deal was struck on 29 May, yet it took until Monday 4 June for details to be revealed to Scottish Ministers. While incidences of cock-up tend to outnumber those of conspiracy where government is concerned, it's still a massive discourtesy, and a huge embarrassment at best.

In spite of this, the Scottish Government's response has been remarkably restrained so far, with Alex Salmond writing to Tony Blair to seek an explanation. This, together with the measured tone he has adopted, must come as a bitter disappointment to those determined to find the first evidence of the SNP Executive picking a fight with London. Indeed, that was the approach taken by Newsnight, which led with the story this evening on the UK-wide section of the programme. Bizarrely, despite Salmond having already taken part in the UK programme, the later Scottish opt-out seemed able to take umbrage at his not appearing to be asked the same questions by them ("he never writes, he never phones", was their take on proceedings. Don't they get phone calls from their colleagues in London either?).

But back to the main event. Presenter Kirsty Wark took up a line of attack which even the most rabid and partisan attack dog would have struggled to sustain. And struggle to sustain it she did, repeatedly shouting Salmond down and trying to cut him off mid-sentence at the end when there was little time pressure to conclude the interview. It was an approach which seemed very out of character for a presenter who ordinarily manages to generate far more light than she does heat.

Now, Alex Salmond knows how to handle himself, and certainly doesn't need anyone's help to defend him in an interview. If it had been me, though, the temptation to tell her to away and bile her heid would have been overwhelming, so kudos to him for keeping his cool, and reminding her that not only did he accept that Westminster had the power to do what it had done, but that her supposedly 'killer revelations' that no formal deal had yet been signed, or decision made regarding any individual prisoner, were ones that he himself had already placed on record earlier in the day in Parliament.

To show how extraordinary the Newsnight approach was, here are responses from other leading figures to the revelation of the existence of the memorandum:

Labour leader Jack McConnell: "As former first minister I would have expected and demanded no less than prior consultation on such a memorandum.

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie: "Tony Blair has quite simply ridden roughshod over devolution and treated with contempt Scotland's distinct and independent legal system."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell: "The Government's ineptitude in handling this matter has given Mr Salmond precisely what he wanted. Westminster and the Labour Government have given the impression of disdain for the Scottish authorities.

Labour MP Tam Dalyell: "Surprisingly I am sympathetic to Mr Salmond. The only way that Megrahi can prove his innocence is through the Scottish legal system."

And from long-time spokesman for the Lockerbie victims, the dignified Dr Jim Swire, whose lost his own daughter in the outrage, we have: "Incredibly it seems that we are being asked to believe that this concerns other Libyan nationals, but not Megrahi. No mention of any discussion was given to us, the Lockerbie relatives. Mr Salmond should indeed remain indignant: Scotland has been insulted."

You can see the First Minister's statement to Parliament here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Buffer Zone

Anent the ongoing controversy surrounding Edinburgh's proposed airport rail link and £700m+ tram line (surely it needs to be lines plural before you can really call it a scheme?), the government has called in the Auditor General to check that the figures add up before any further progress is made.

Hurrah etc, you might think. But despite the fact that both audit reports will be completed within a fortnight, Labour's transport spokesman Des McNulty is crying foul, on the grounds that he does not support using the Auditor General to "overturn policy decisions".

R-i-g-h-t... so once a decision has been made, no matter how bad it looks to be, you need to press on anyway, and the only role for the Auditor General is after the money has already been wasted, whereupon the McNultys of this world will intone piously that 'lessons have been learned' and that we all now need to 'move on'? Aye, right...

So, top marks to John Swinney, then, for calling in the auditors before it becomes too late. If all the figures stack up, then the pro-tram and underground station lobby have nothing to fear. If on the other hand the figures don't stack up, would it be too much to ask for just a little humility from the 'damn fools who keep yelling to push on'?


UPDATE: Since the story first appeared on the BBC website, the bold Tavish Scott has shoved his oar in. He really does seem to be on a kamikaze mission at the moment...

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Ambassador's Reception

This might surprise a few people, but about 6 years ago, I reached the final stage interview to join the Diplomatic Service. No, really, it's true. I think I still have the correspondence somewhere to prove it.

In the end, I was bombed out, due ostensibly to my lack of 'management experience'. However, the fact that the panel spent the first few minutes of the interview beating me around the head for having had previous political involvement, and asked only the most perfunctory questions about my managerial abilities and experience, tells me that they were probably being, at best, 'diplomatic' themselves in their reasons for my eventual rejection.

I won't deny that it pissed me off a bit at the time. I mean, regardless as to my personal politics, as an (albeit reluctant) British subject, I felt I was as entitled to participate in the institutions of my country as was anyone else. Since I'd selected the 'operational' route, my view was that a British or EU passport holder in trouble was worthy of my full assistance, wherever they happened to be or wherever they happened to come from. Personal politics, which I would have quietly left behind on entry, would through a combination of circumstance and necessity have become completely and utterly irrelevant.

Looking back, although it didn't feel like it at the time, they probably did me a huge favour. I've no doubt that I would have kept my politics in check - after all, I sometimes have to do that working with the SNP. But if I had got in, would I ever have achieved anything? My political 'previous' would have maybe allowed me to get to be a Second or First Secretary somewhere suitably insignificant, but I suspect, alas, that the Ferrero Rocher would never have been mine to hand out.

And never mind my being an SNP voter - how would I have coped trying to defend the Foreign policy of the Blair Government over the past few years? With great difficulty, I suspect. No, in retrospect, the panel made the right decision - as much for my sake as for anyone else's. I may have had all the necessary attributes, but there were one or two others in there as well which meant that I should probably have been more careful about what I was wishing for at the time.

And the point of all this? Well, there isn't one, really, other than to draw the attention of anyone still reading to a four-part series on BBC Radio 4's 'The Westminster Hour'. Presented by Christopher Meyer, 'Lying Abroad' is a fascinating insight into the world of diplomatic representation. It was hearing part 2 on Sunday evening that brought all of this back to me, and thoughts of what might have been if I'd studied hard at university and kept well away from all this political nonsense...

Such is life, but there's nothing I'd swap. Maybe I'll apply to join a Scottish Diplomatic Corps if we get to the stage of requiring one any time soon ;-)

Dear Oh Dear Oh Dear

Dear God. Just when you thought the London Olympics couldn't get any more farcical, this happens:

"This is the vision at the very heart of our brand," said London 2012 organising committee Chairman, Seb Coe.

"It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world. It is an invitation to take part and be involved.."

And from Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, we have: "This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country. It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration."

How can anyone say that in public without dissolving into a fit of the giggles? Frankly, the guy who designed the 'Tiswas' logo should sue!

(With thanks to Mr Eugenides for the tip off and the logo image).

UPDATE: Since this is for the most part a respectable, family blog, I'm not going to add the animated cartoon porn version of the logo - you'll just have to find it for yourselves. However, here's one that someone called Matt Le Gresley sent to the BBC website:


Friday, June 01, 2007

28 Days Later

Better late than never... Gordon Brown has finally congratulated Alex Salmond.

He was impervious to criticism and accusations of sour grapes, refusing to congratulate Salmond as recently as Wednesday. But see as soon as people started laughing at him...

Ridicule - the most powerful weapon in politics :-)

Can You Just Stand In Front Of That Cannon For Me A Moment...

At the risk of beginning to sound like some cranky libertarian wierdo, please tell me this is a joke...

"12 British orchestras have undertaken - or are currently scheduled to receive - intensive training in the area of noise exposure and how orchestras can take practical steps to reducing exposure levels and minimising risk".

Alas, it appears not. I can just see it now... at the next Fireworks Concert in Princes St Gardens, some Keith Lard-type will burst up on to the stage after they've played 'Ride of the Valkyries', to insist that before we get the 1812 Overture, canons and all, we'll have a burst of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, because it's nice and quiet and there's tinkly little bells in it.

The whole point of pieces of music like 'Finlandia' is that the brass is very, very loud, and that the percussionist knocks seven shades out of the timpani to the point of a coronary attack. That's what makes it exciting, interesting, life affirming. That's what makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear it, and causes me to shiver with pleasure when the French Horn plays over the top of the strings just before the finale.

The light and shade comes through the music itself, or the skill with which the programme is selected. It doesn't come from bureacratising the music profession or conducting silly little 'risk assessments'. Just for that, I'm going to stick the Karelia Suite on extra loud on my way home. Followed by AC/DC. Write that down on your clipboard...